There is so much attention paid to the challenging qualities of children with sensory processing disorder. Parenting a highly sensitive child is no walk in the park as many of you know. This post shares a powerful “ah-ha” moment of parenting a child with sensory integration and processing challenges. In this post, I explain why my child's biggest challenges are his greatest gifts.
It is time we shift our perspective on children with sensory challenges! I hope you enjoy reading it!
“My child is not giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time.”
~ Peaceful Parents Confident Kids
The Positive Side of Sensory Processing Disorder
As many of you know, I have an angry child. Some call him “rigid” or “explosive“. He has a tough time “shifting gears“. In other words he “doesn't transition well”. He “lags in basic problem-solving skills”. (Notice all the “quotes”?) We sought therapy that has helped a great deal. We work every day to use the most effective responses with him a la Dr. Ross Green's The Explosive Child. Every day feels like a struggle with my son. I love him. I appreciate him.
Yet every day is exhausting to us.
My husband and I choose to embrace the fact that what makes our child so challenging is what makes him great. His greatness, although bold and seemingly brash at moments, is delicate. These qualities must be nurtured and massaged throughout his development so that he can be a successful, happy, productive adult. We don't want to shut down these qualities. That feels good to write because not a day goes by where I don't wish my son was easy going. I fight every day to keep the tone of my voice firm and kind, not full of shame and anger. I don't always succeed but I try my best every single day.
There have been recent articles circulating the web about these great qualities of children with sensory integration and processing challenges. What is your Child's Hidden Gift? is a nice one with quotes from real parents. I feel hopeful that these perspectives are hitting mainstream. Instead of these children being seen as a burden, let's celebrate their unique qualities.
Here is one example that hit me hard the other day. Last week my sons and I headed to a birthday party. It was a pool party on a beautiful day with great food, music, and friends we had not seen for a while. My six year old greatly missed his friend. I sensed he was a bit nervous because it had been quite some time and they weren't in a classroom, but at his friend's home.
The moment we walked into the party, my sons were dismissed by their friend. I noticed it within seconds. His nanny waved to him to come say hello to his friends and he responded, in Spanish, that my sons were not his friends. We didn't know anyone at the party. We were of a minority speaking English as a first language. The fact is that there was a divide between our little life and the life of this family (and this party). Still, I made the best of it. The boys jumped in (literally into the pool). I suited up to make sure my one year old was safe to play in the pool. I was friendly.
I watched as my oldest son tried to play with his old friend by joking around in the pool and rough housing on floats. All he got was a back turned on him. Sad moments for me to observe as a parent. My eyes filled with tears as I silently convinced myself this circumstance is good for his development. I also secretly wished we could leave the party, but we had just arrived and, well, kids will be kids, right? So we pressed on. Nothing changed. In fact the situation only became worse as my son was told to shut up and that he was not welcomed at the party. This child, this friend, was not the child I knew in my son's Montessori classroom for the last two years. He was completely different.
Finally, the minutes past enough so we could respectfully leave the party. I walked up to my sons to gather them for the ride home. I noticed them standing near their friend. I stopped a few feet from them observing my six year old's body language – head down, shoulders rolled inward, face ashen with confusion, sadness, and embarrassment. I sensed something was going on.
That is when I heard my four year old, totally not afraid of conflict, (you know, the angry, rigid, explosive child?) ask: “Why don't you answer my brother when he talks to you?” The friend turned away from them. He tried to walk away but my four-year-old was not going to let that happen. He got right in his face, looked at him, and asked again: “Why are you ignoring my question? Why don't you want to be J's friend anymore?”
He was genuinely looking for answers. He was as confused as my six year old. The friend still ignored my feisty four year old until he made sure he could see his face. Then, said to him, “Fine. If you are not going to be my brother's friend. I am not going to be your friend,” grabbed J, and walked away.
Of course, there may be a better approach, better words to use, and lots of follow up with my oldest son (For example, my four-year-old was confused as to why his brother “didn't speak” during the confrontation.). There was a lot going on in those few moments but one thing became crystal clear to me: My four-year-old with all his challenging qualities also comes with: fierce loyalty.
Along with his “rigidity”, “inability to shift gears”, “lack of problem-solving skills”, and “explosiveness” comes conviction, decisiveness, focus, thoroughness, and fierce loyalty. Such a powerful moment. I felt proud and relieved and loads of love. I admired his perseverance and ability to look conflict in the eye.
He teaches me every day. He reminds me every day that his biggest challenges are his greatest gifts.